European Western Balkans

BiH: Council of Europe’s Anti-racism Commission denounces a lack of political willingness to build an inclusive society

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) today published its third report on Bosnia and Herzegovina in which it analyses recent developments and outstanding issues and makes recommendations to the authorities.

The report welcomes that political representatives are now usually quick to condemn attacks against returnees when such incidents occur. It also notes positively that the strategy for the implementation of Annex VII of the Dayton Peace Agreement on the rights of returnees has been revised, focusing on support for housing, infrastructure and employment.

In order to reduce the levels of inter-ethnic discrimination and hate crimes that the country is still suffering from, the authorities have provided training on the application of the anti-discrimination Law and on combating hate crime to judges, prosecutors and police officers.

The report also mentions measures taken to resolve problems of discrimination on ethnic grounds in the area of pension entitlements, to facilitate access to identity documents for members of the Roma community and to support the enrolment of more Roma children in schools and reduce drop-out rates.

However, the report denounces a persistent lack of political willingness in the country to build an inclusive society. Despite ECRI’s recommendation in its previous report, ethnically segregated education systems are still in place and the political elites of the three main ethnic groups show no willingness to embrace integrated schools.

“Ending all forms of ethnic segregation in schools is probably one of the most important tasks for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is absolutely vital in order to build an inclusive society and to spare future generations the curse of ethnic divisionism and hatred.” said ECRI’s Chair, Christian Ahlund.

Inter-ethnic tensions remain dangerously high in the country and the political discourse, including in the media, is still characterised by the frequent use of hate speech, while the authorities’ reaction is almost inexistent.

There has also been no progress towards executing the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country’s constitution continues to tie eligibility for certain high political offices to a person’s ethnicity. The unwillingness to change these provisions is symptomatic for the existing political obstacles to overcoming the ethnic partition of the country.

Furthermore, the report finds that the Ombudsman Institution is understaffed and only about half of its recommendations have been implemented. The institution’s effectiveness is also potentially threatened by proposed new legislation that could affect its financial independence.

The report makes a number of recommendations. The following two are to be implemented on a priority basis and will be the subject of interim follow-up by ECRI within two years:

  • All forms of segregation in schools should end and the common core curriculum should be fully applied and further developed. A learning environment free from discrimination needs to be ensured and any symbols that represent an ethnic or religious bias should be removed;
  • The capacity of the Ombudsman Institution should be strengthened, in particular its decision-making processes streamlined, funds and human resources increased, and full financial independence from the government as well as better compliance with the Ombudsman Institution’s recommendations ensured.

The report was prepared following ECRI’s visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 2016 and takes account of developments up to 30 June 2016, except where expressly indicated.

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